ATC140212: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Transport on the Oversight visit to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), dated 11 February 2014




The Portfolio Committee on Transport, having undertaken an oversight visit to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) from 23 to 26 July 2013, reports as follows:



The Portfolio Committee on Transport, as mandated by the Constitution and Rules of Parliament, undertook an oversight visit to PRASA from 23 to

26 July 2013. The Committee delegation consisted of the Committee Chairperson, Ms N R Bhengu (ANC), Ms N J Ngele (ANC), Ms N Mdaka (ANC), Ms RM Motsepe (ANC), Mr L Suka (ANC), Mr N Duma (ANC), Mr I Ollis (DA) and Mr P Mbhele (Cope). The Committee was supported by the following parliamentary staff: Ms V Carelse, Committee Secretary, Mr S Ngesi, Committee Researcher, and Ms D Martin, Committee Assistant.



The aim of the visit was (i) to assess progress made by the entity to improve public transport services and (ii) to assess the effectiveness of strategic interventions made on recommendations by the Committee. The

visit was also aimed at better understanding the design and manufacture of rolling stock and to obtain on-site exposure to the proposed Braamfontein property development. In addition, the visit provided the Committee with an opportunity to be exposed to the operations of the entity’s subsidiaries. The Committee visited the PRASA head office, Transnet Rail, Union Carriage and Wagon (UCW) in Nigel, the Pretoria North Control Centre, Braamfontein depot and Park, Pretoria and Rhodesfield stations.


The recommendations made by the Committee after its study tour to China served as the basis for the PRASA oversight visit. During the Committee’s study tour to China, the Committee established how the government of China responded to its transport challenges and how, by transforming its transport system, it also addressed its social and economic challenges.  The Committee was of the opinion that transformation of transport systems should also address the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Strategic interventions should aim to take South Africa from its current status as a consumer country with low production to one that is self-sufficient and self- reliant in its infrastructure development.


During the study tour, the Committee found that the Chinese Government had positioned transport as an enabling tool for economic development. Rail transportation was the backbone of transport with other modes of transport complementing rail. The Chinese Government developed the entire value chain of the railway transportation industry, including science and technological training, planning and design, equipment manufacturing, rail infrastructure development, manufacturing and assembling plants, signalling and control systems and the servicing and maintenance of trains. As an outcome of the study tour, the Committee recommended that South Africa move away from the rehabilitation of old rolling stock and begin with a process of investing in new and modern locomotives and coaches as a means of reducing time and cost of travel.



PRASA’s mandate, according to the Legal Succession Act, is to (i) provide urban rail commuter services in the public interest, (ii) provide long haul passenger rail services and (iii) provide long haul bus services. Its secondary object is to generate income from the exploitation of assets acquired by PRASA, giving due regard to Government’s socio-economic and transport objectives.


The primary responsibilities of the entity, since its establishment in 2009, are to effectively develop and manage rail and rail related transport infrastructure and to provide efficient rail road based passenger transport within, to and from urban and rural areas. The entity shifted focus from stabilisation of commuter rail services towards the delivery of high-quality passenger services by 2015. In pursuit of its aims the entity faces major challenges which include: investment in new rail rolling stock that had been on declining trend over three decades, the last train sets were purchased in

the mid 1980s and its technology was lagging behind international rail technology.


The long-term goal of PRASA is to be a commercially viable entity capable of delivering efficient, high-quality passenger transport services on a sustainable basis and to improve quality and reliability of rail services. It aims to invest in new capacity by acquiring new, modern trains; signalling, telecommunications, train control and operating systems; speed-gates and expanding the network to address imbalances inherited from the past. It further aims to unlock the value of assets to ensure financial sustainability. PRASA aims to procure approximately 7 224 new rolling stock with projected investment of R123 billion over a period of 20 years, from 2015 to 2035. At the time of the visit Gibela Rail Transport Consortium (ALSTOM- ACTOM) was appointed as the preferred bidder to supply 3 600 new Metrorail coaches at a cost of R51 billion over a ten year period (2015- 2025). Benefits of the new rolling stock project included: increased rolling stock reliability, 33 000 direct and indirect jobs would be created over the next ten years (2015-2025) of production and small enterprises in the rail sector would be developed. PRASA aimed to have 69% local content in production by the second year of the project. Delivery of the test trains  were aimed at the first quarter of 2015 and the delivery of operational trains were earmarked for the fourth quarter of 2015.



The Group Chief Executive of PRASA and the Chairperson of the PRASA Board of Control informed the Committee of the following projects that the entity was currently implementing:



According to PRASA, only 23 (14%) of the 162 signalling installations across the national PRASA network had not exceeded their design life. The rest of the installations averaged 35 years in age. The scope of the new signalling programme included the replacement of all PRASA signalling installations and the associated civil, perway, electrical and telecommunication works, the construction of the train operation control centres, as well as the installation of optical fibre cable networks in the Metrorail regions. This would allow telecommunication links between the various signal relay rooms and the regional train traffic control centres.


PRASA stated that 60% local content would be included in the project. Most of the manufacturing and testing will be done locally, underpinning PRASA’s aim of local manufacturing and its aim of creating approximately 65 000 direct and indirect jobs through the rail recapitalisation project.




The first phase of the project includes the construction of a Gauteng Nerve Centre (GNC) and the installation of interlocking systems in the Gauteng region. The estimated duration of the project is five years. The second

phase includes the re-signalling of the system with modification of the existing remote control system. The approval for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and the detailed concept design for the GNC were completed. Negotiations with Siemens for the implementation of the project were completed. The benefits of the system are a reduced number of signalling failures, reduced train delays and cancellations due to signal failures, and improved reaction time from a centralized operational control centre servicing the whole region. The expected capital costs are R1.1 billion for Phase 1 and R2.7 billion for Phase 2.



The project’s focus is the modification of the existing remote control system, implementation of the interfacing system with the interlocking system and re-signalling of the system. Thales Maziya Consortium was appointed to modernize the signalling system for a five year period. The entity was currently mobilizing to start with the implementation. The  benefits of the projects are reduced number of signalling failures, reduced train delays and cancellations due to signal failures and improved reaction time from a centralized operational control centre servicing the whole region. Thales Maziya Consortium was in the process of starting with the actual installation of modern signalling system. The project was expected to commence before the end of first quarter (end of March) in the 2013/14 financial year. The expected cost is R1.8 billion.



The project focuses on the modification of the existing remote control system, implementation of the interfacing system with the interlocking system and re-signalling of the system. Bombardier was appointed on a five-year contract to modernize the signalling system. The benefits of the projects are the reduced number of signalling failures, reduced train delays and cancellations due to signal failures, improved reaction time from a centralized operational control centre servicing the whole region and high frequency. Bombardier was in the process of starting with the actual installation of the modern signalling system. The work was expected to commence before the end of the first quarter (end of March) in the 2013/14 financial year. The expected capital costs are R1.3 billion.



The Committee visited the Pretoria North control centre which serves  seven panels, namely de Wild, Wolmerton, Pretoria North, Pretoria, Saulsville, Hercules and Koedoespoort. The centre monitors 346 trains Monday to Friday and a lesser number on weekends. It has 38 traffic control officers, with rotation shifts of eight traffic control officers. Challenges raised by PRASA staff included cable theft and lightning which interferes with the functioning of the system. PRASA was confident that these challenges would be addressed by the new signalling system.


Transnet rail engineering has six modern manufacturing facilities equipped with the latest technology worth over R8 billion. The coach business is geographically positioned to provide a service to PRASA. It has an annual turnover of R376 million and has 782 employees. Capacity was reserved for PRASA work.


Challenges faced were the downward trend in the revenue of this business over the years, influenced by the end of the 10M5 upgrade. Transnet Engineering (TE) lost market share to competitors and the number of employees has also been reduced from 1600 to 800 over the period. For this financial year, TE has an allocation of 93 coaches to be completed by the end of August. In 2012/13, 163 ad hoc coaches were refurbished and in 2013/14, 63 coaches had been refurbished. PRASA noted that it could not send too many of its coaches for refurbishment as this would negatively affect its day-to-day operations.


Transnet rail engineering felt that it was ready to play its role in the manufacturing of the new coaches. It was in the process of engaging Alstom to define and agree on the scope of work and to share with Alstom its capability to be involved in maintenance. PRASA was committed to building a local rolling stock manufacturing plant. The production facility would be fully operational by its third year and would have an 80% local employee base by the fifth year. An amount of R841 million would  be  spent on rail-related skills development and 19 500 individuals would be skilled throughout all tiers of production. The Committee would have  regular follow-ups to monitor the progress in construction of the facilities.


The School of Transnet Engineering provides high-quality training for its employees nationwide at its well-established 18 training campuses, with capacity to handle over 2 000 apprentices per annum. The School of Engineering was Transport Education and Training Authority (TETA) accredited and recognized training institute with over 15 training programmes per annum. Key courses were provided in the following categories: Apprenticeship/technicians, engineering, logistics and supply chain management. Courses were certified and training was provided for internal employees, external members, interns and graduates.


During its visit at the Koedoespoort facility, the Committee commended Transnet on the number of female technicians it had rained and employed, but wanted clarity on whether those who could not be absorbed by the entity could find employment elsewhere. It further wanted to know if the entity created sufficient awareness about its training opportunities in rural areas.


Central to the relationship between PRASA and Transnet was the refurbishing of coaches. During discussions with Transnet and PRASA, the Committee stated the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP) for building the capacity of State- Owned Companies to make its resources

rotate in the State. These objectives were also related to the recommendations made by the Committee after its study tour to China in 2010.


During the discussions, PRASA expressed its concern with the slow pace at which Transnet was refurbishing PRASA coaches. PRASA indicated that it wanted to give more work to Transnet, but could not do so due to the quality of Transnet’s refurbishment and the quantity it could complete before deadlines. The Committee was of the opinion that the objectives of the NDP could only be realized if Transnet played a meaningful role. The Committee observed that the refurbishments done by Transnet to the coaches were inferior to that of the work done by Union Carriage and Wagon (UCW).


At the time of the visit the Committee felt that the entities had not yet engaged on what the NDP directs them to do. It further felt that they still needed to acquaint themselves with the recommendations made by the Committee after its study tour to China on the building of the capacity of state entities.



The project aims to modernize/improve 134 stations that were currently dealing with higher than normal passenger numbers. These have been prioritised for future growth and in line with current passenger demand in order to deliver quality passenger rail services. Phase 1, which is completed, prioritised the concept designs of the 20 mainly super core stations. The benefits of the projects were the creation of at least a 1 000 direct construction jobs, improved revenue collection, improved station operations, enhanced commuter flow/access in and out of the station, intermodal facilities, shops, and other commuter requirements and the provision of universal access. Prioritised locations were the following rail connections: Mabopane – Pretoria- Germiston – Johannesburg – Naledi, Umlazi – Durban – Kwa Mashu – Bridge City and Khayelitsha / Kapteinsklip

  • Cape Town. The expected capital costs were R5.4 billion.


The time frames were:

  • Phase 1: 23 stations, mainly super core stations, at detailed design development stages (complete) – 2013
  • Phase 2: 64 mainly super core and core stations (currently at initiation stages) – 2014
  • Phase 3: 50 intermediate, small and Halt stations (currently at planning stages) – 2015.



In its visit to the Pretoria Station, the Committee noted the new speed gates that were installed. According to PRASA officials, the speed gates would be used once an integrated ticketing system was adopted. Speed gates were also installed at Cape Town and Park stations. The Committee observed the CCTV camera control room. The Committee commended PRASA on

establishing the control room, with its 200 cameras, and its impact on reducing crime at stations.



Members undertook a train journey from Pretoria to Johannesburg. The observations of the journey were as follows: (i) some passengers, blaming the lack of communication from PRASA, did not know that the train was an express train and consequently missed their stations, (ii) passengers complained that the trains did not have heaters and were therefore feeling cold in winter, and (iii) the train journey was too long, as it took an hour and a half to travel the 50 km from Pretoria to Johannesburg. During interaction with passengers, common complaints were about overcrowding, delays, train breakdowns and interruptions in service with announcements by PRASA or provision of alternative transport.


In the debriefing meeting after the train journey, the United Commuters Voice (UCV) said that it was previously unhappy about services provided by PRASA. However, it supported the rolling stock recapitalisation project and looked forward to the new trains in 2015. The organisation has a memorandum of understanding with PRASA to solve problems facing commuters. UCV was of the opinion that PRASA had to improve its communication with passengers. UCV was concerned about vandalism and was teaching commuters about taking care of PRASA assets. The visit of the Committee did not include a visit to UCV to assess its programmes. The Committee could therefore not verify the objectives of UCV. The Committee recommends a follow–up visit to UCV to assess the impact of its programmes on commuters and PRASA.



Park Station is the second biggest train station in Africa and the biggest and commercially viable in South Africa. It has an estimated feet count of 180 000 people per day, and is an important transport node in South Africa for business people and tourists. With its 19 platforms, it serves both Metrorail and Shozaloza Mail (mainline passengers).


During its oversight to the station, the Committee was exposed to new developments, including the north food court development adjacent to the Gautrain station, with focus on retail expansion at a cost of R23 million. The estimated construction period is 9 months. A new banking mall was being constructed inside Park Station, focusing on the expansion of banking services and converting old offices premises to a banking mall. The value of the project is R13,9 million and the estimated construction period is seven months.


Upcoming projects at Park Station include a 42 000 square metre retail expansion and redevelopment, the installation of eleven new lifts and eight escalators, the resurfacing and unblocking the drainage at the bus loading area, as well as the refurbishment of the Tippet Project Office.

The Committee observed PRASA’s efforts to transform its stations in commercial hubs, focusing on trade and the creation of residential accommodation, as seen in the China rail model. The Committee commends these projects as it would create income for PRASA and would decrease its dependency on funding from the state.


The Committee noted the integration of the Gautrain station with Park station and commends PRASA on implementing the integrated transport system.



PRASA Cres focuses on the cleaning of trains and stations, securing public facilities and job creation. Cooperatives were contracted for the cleaning of stations and trains with project roll out at the following stations, i.e Park Station, Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria, Bellville, Germiston, Mabopane, Berea and Wynberg. These projects related to addressing poverty and unemployment challenges.


The focus was on job creation and, consequently, poverty reduction. An amount of R35 million was set aside in the current financial year for the project. The projects target poor families around train stations who are organised into cooperatives and provided with opportunities to clean stations. At the time of the oversight visit, the project was in its pilot phase where only primary cooperatives had been involved. Plumbing, paving and electrification had been identified as projects that would be implemented in the next phase, as well as assisting with establishing secondary cooperatives that would be supplying consumables, equipment and cleaning detergents. In the long run, the impact of the project would have a positive spin-off as it would result in the reduction in vandalism as communities would see the benefit of living around train stations.



The CEO of Intersite introduced the Committee to the project. It is expected that the project would have a long-term aim, and would be done in conjunction with the City of Johannesburg and other departments. Intersite was looking for an investor and was of the opinion that the project would be a catalyst for private investments and urban renewal. Scope existed for intermodal transport opportunities. Master planning for the project will be completed four months from now.



The technology to be installed will be able to manage fare evasion, manage access, provide a ticketing system retrofitted with CCTV, Railcom, help points and display boards. Designs have been approved for all three regions and site access for all three regions has been obtained. Seventy- one speed gates had been installed and the integrated management programme had been completed at 41 stations.

The impact of the programme was a reduction in fatalities caused by trespassing, an increase in revenue due to passengers only able to alight or disembark at station buildings, safe and secured assets, available rail networks at all times, a reduction of train delays due to vandalism and sabotage and a reduction in train cancellations due to vandalism and sabotage. Prioritised locations were the following rail connection: Mabopane – Pretoria- Germiston – Johannesburg – Naledi, Umlazi – Durban – Kwa Mashu – Bridge City and Khayelitsha / Kapteinsklip – Cape Town.


Project timeframes were as follows: Southern Gauteng region to be completed by 2014 March, Northern Gauteng region completed by March 2013 (91% complete), Western Cape region completed by July 2013 (86% complete), and KwaZulu-Natal region completed by December 2013 (83% complete). The overall project progress was 86.47%. The expected capital costs were R1.7 billion.



  1. VISIT TO BRAAMFONTEIN YARD AND DEPOT: 25 JULY 2013 The new technology brought by the new fleet, as well as the improved and enhanced maintenance practices envisaged for this new fleet, will require either new or refurbished or upgraded maintenance depots. In order to support the new fleet, a Depot Modernization Programme was required to upgrade the existing rolling stock maintenance depots at Braamfontein, Wolmerton, Salt River, Durban and Springfield. Concept designs had been completed. The upgraded depots would be able to cater for the increased new fleet maintenance demand required by the full fleet deployment.


Commencement of the construction work is schedule for April 2014. Deliverables included a running shed, an upgrade of lifting shop and component workshop, , refurbishment of the existing administration building/training centre and maintenance shed, construction of new train operations building, intensive cleaning shed, controlled emission toilet clearing facility, under floor lathe, reversing line and turn table, remodelling of lines to accommodate new generation trains; and yard signalling. The expected capital costs was R5 billion.


The upgrading of the Braamfontein depot is significant as the testing of new trains will be done at this depot. The depot will be able to accommodate train sets of up to 270 metres long. A security upgrade at the depot, which includes the installation of CCTV cameras and kinetic sensors, will reduce the risk of vandalism. The Braamfontein maintenance depot employs 1 000 employees in maintenance depot. The depot has mastered techniques to maintain the current system and the focus is on preventative and lean maintenance.


At its visit at the depot, the Committee visited the School of Excellence, which aims to build skills for the rail industry.


Autopax is PRASA’s wholly-owned subsidiary whose main objective and business is the long distance road transportation of passengers. Autopax’s mandate is to consolidate its market share and operate on a fully commercial basis, support rail operations through effective feeder and distribution services and also offer services to cities and municipalities in rural areas. The company operates a fleet of 570 commuter, semi-luxury, luxury and ultra luxury buses. Autopax employs 1 345 staff and operates out of three depots situated in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town.


The depot has a body shop where 80% of maintenance is done and has on-base refuelling facilities. The testing station at the depot was used for scheduled testing of buses and running of repairs. A mess area was available for bus drivers to rest between trips. Autopax has a safety record of 3.2 incidents per million kilometres against the industry norm of 7.9 incidents.



During its visit to Rhodesfield Station, the Committee made the following observations: (i) speed gates were installed at the station, (ii) the station had a “new station” design, (iii) information signage was not clear, (iv)  there was a lack of rubbish bins, (v) the stairs were rusting. The Committee visited the clinic at the station that is used by PRASA employees.



Union Carriage and Wagon (UCW) was established in 1957 and is situated in Nigel, South Africa. The facility is located on a 37 hectare stand, where over 14 000 new locomotives, suburban trains and coaches have been designed and manufactured. Refurbishing and upgrading of rolling stock is a significant element of the company’s growth strategy. UCW designs and builds new locomotives, as well as refurbishes and upgrades old or damaged locomotives and carriages. UCW has a skilled workforce of over 700 employees and ensures that the employees are highly trained and are able to perform their jobs to the best of their ability. The company opened a welding school to ensure a skilled workforce. A consortium led by South Africa’s state-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and black economically empowered Commuter Transport Engineering (CTE) have acquired UCW from Murray & Roberts (M&R).


Customers include Mitsui & Co African Railways Solution, PRASA, Transnet Freight Rail, Venus Railway Solutions and Bombardier. Products and services have been supplied to international clients, including Angola Rails, Botswana Railways, Malawi Railways, Malaysia (KTMB), Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) and Zimbabwe Railways.


During the visit to the plant, the Committee observed the 19E locomotives that were produced by the company for Transnet Freight Rail (TFR). The company also finished the refurbishment of 5M2A and 10M4 sets for PRASA. The Committee noted the good quality of the refurbishment.

The executive of UCW informed the Committee that the delivery of the completed refurbished PRASA coaches was a challenge as part of the railway line to Springs was stolen.



  1. The Committee was pleased to note that strides had been conducted by PRASA in the implementation of its rolling stock recapitalisation project, based on recommendations made by the Committee during its interactions with the entity and the Department of Transport.
  2. At the time of the visit to PRASA, information on expenditure for the signalling project was not available to assess whether projects were on budget and whether value for money was received.
  3. The Committee noted that PRASA currently contracted six companies to upgrade and refurbish its coaches and that this impacted on the quality of the refurbishments. The Committee further noted the challenges raised by PRASA regarding Transnet Rail Engineering’s capacity to refurbish and manufacture coaches. The Committee noted that the quality of the refurbishment was inferior to that of Union Carriage and Wagon. The Committee was of the opinion that Transnet would have been a preferred service provider but this objective could only have been achieved if Transnet had the capacity.
  4. The Committee further noted the station improvement projects and signalling upgrades in anticipation of the arrival of the new trains in 2015. The retail expansion projects of PRASA bode well as it would contribute greatly to decrease the entity’s dependence on financing from Government for its operations. However, the Committee noted the following areas of concern:
    1. communication with passengers needed to be improved, (2) the lack of appropriate skills to sustain the industry remains a concern, (3) Union Carriage and Wagon should be a strategic partner of the state entity for the purpose of capacity building and ensuring quality of work.



The Committee recommends that the Minister of Transport ensure the following:

  1. That the Department of Transport and PRASA provide the Committee with quarterly expenditure reports on the implementation of the projects. The Committee will have ongoing engagement with the office of the Auditor- General to assess expenditure.
  2. That PRASA explores and accelerates initiatives for skills development for the rail industry, whilst improving innovation and technology.
  3. That PRASA and the Minister of Transport explore the possibility of creating internal capacity in the rail industry with

the aim of creating a self-sufficient and self-reliant industry. IPAP 13/14 identified beneficiation as an area to benefit the manufacturing industry. The Committee therefore recommends that local production and procurement be prioritised.

  1. That PRASA creates awareness among its passengers about the communication modes that exist currently to inform passengers about delays and/or cancellations in its service, i.e sms services. It also has to ensure that electronic notice boards and its intercom system are operating and in use daily.
  2. That PRASA and the Department of Transport undertake a study tour to China to familiarise themselves with the Chinese model applied in building its rail industry.



Having noted the lack of investment made in rail transport for more than 40 years and the subsequent eroding effect on rail transport, the Committee commends PRASA on the strides made, since its inception in 2009, to transform the rail industry. The Committee commits itself to regularly monitor the implementation of this momentous project to ensure the timeous delivery and value for money of services.



Report to be considered.





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